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According to him, as of December 11, 2023, there were 77,089 prisoners in the 266 prisons, whereas the prisons can only accommodate 20,000 prisoners. He described this situation as difficult to deal with
The Assistant Commissioner General of Prisons, Samuel Akena has said that congestion in Ugandan prisons is among the major problems depriving prisoners of their human rights.
Speaking at a high-level multi-stakeholder national public dialogue held in Kampala yesterday in commemoration of the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights and access to justice for women, Mr Akena attributed the glaring congestion in all prisons to remands.
According to him, as of December 11, 2023, there were 77,089 prisoners in the 266 prisons, whereas the prisons can only accommodate 20,000 prisoners. He described this situation as difficult to deal with.
"It is not fair for you to claim that I am responsible for poor food, poor housing, or poor clothing. Our responsibility is to ensure that the human rights of these people are observed. Congestion is caused by remands. The capacity I have is only for 20,000 prisoners, but we have 77,089 as of today.
Many of them have been committed to the High Court. After committal, how long will someone remain on remand? Some have stayed on remand for five years or seven years. Can they be revisited? Judgment letters total 519. I would reduce the upper prison by 500 prisoners if they weren't there."
He said that sometimes, people who fail to pay loans are taken to prison which is costly for the prison.
“You take him to prison, he is not working. How do you expect him to pay? The money I am given to keep him for six months cannot take care of him for only three weeks,” Mr Akena said.
He revealed that out of the 77,089 prisoners, 39,784 are convicted while 36,786 are on remand.
While giving a keynote address, the Deputy Chief Justice, Justice Richard Buteera said a lot has to be done in the field of human rights protection, and promotion.
Justice Batema revealed that many people are still in prison without a case to answer simply because they failed to bribe their way out.
“It is not well researched but it is said that when you look at some files you wonder why some prisoners are released yet. There is no evidence against him or it is a simple case. When you try to find out why, the relatives tell you the police asked for a certain amount of money that they are unable to pay. They further note that he/she has been on remand waiting for a judge, and the judges are scarce. It was just recently that the high court was expended to take the services nearer to the people, “he explained.
Justice Batera also attributed congestion in prisons to an increase in reported cases by the community and bail not being a constitutional right.
“We find ourselves overwhelmed by the suspects. We remand them because bail is not a constitutional right. What is guaranteed is the right to apply for bail. When you apply for bail, it is not automatic that you will get it. It is in the discretion of the judicial people,” Justice Batema said.
He stressed the need for sensitizing the judicial officers and giving them skills of legal interpretation so that they exercise their discretion judiciously to grant bail. He encouraged them to visit prisons and talk to the prisoners to appreciate the problem of congestion.
“He noted that for capital offences, the constitutional provision is that after six months, the suspect should be considered for mandatory bail, and within those six months, the court is required to consider releasing the suspect, on bail on terms that it may set in its discretion.